Book Review: A Pilgrimage of Swords by Anthony Ryan

Title: Pilgrimage of Swords

Author: Anthony Ryan

Series: Seven Swords #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: It is two hundred years since the deity known as the Absolved went mad and destroyed the Kingdom of Alnachim, transforming it into the Execration, a blasted wasteland filled with nameless terrors. For decades, desperate souls have made pilgrimage to the centre of this cursed land to seek the Mad God’s favour, their fate always unknown. Now a veteran warrior known only as Pilgrim, armed with a fabled blade inhabited by the soul of a taunting demon, must join with six others to make the last journey to the heart of the Execration. Allied with a youthful priest, a beast-charmer, a duplicitous scholar, an effete actor and two exiled lovers, Pilgrim must survive madness, malevolent spirits, unnatural monsters and the ever-present risk of treachery, all so that the Mad God might hear his prayer and, perhaps, grant redemption. But can sins such as his ever be forgiven? -Goodreads

The Review:

Pilgrimage of Swords is a breathtaking start to another amazing world from Anthony Ryan.

I think Ryan has a split personality in his writing. One Ryan loves to tell adventurous novels with expansive world building and the sorts of discoveries that leave you in awe and wonder at what you’ve just experienced. This is very much the case with Draconius Memoria (my all-time favorite series). The other Ryan gives you deep, slow-burn character novels where the focus is almost completely on a single POV making his way in the world, as with Blood Song and Pariah. Pilgrimage of Swords falls into the latter category. Even though it’s a novella, he managed to cram a great deal of exploration and discovery within, and I can’t wait to see what sort of cool things we’re going to come across next!

I really didn’t think there would be enough substance in such a short book to win me over, but I was wrong – it was really good. The only thing that perhaps suffered is that I didn’t feel I had enough time to get to know all of the side characters, and even continued to mix a couple of them up until the very end of the book. They didn’t seem particularly fleshed out (or is it flushed out? I could make a case for both words, lol) and after finishing the book, I can sort of see why. But I could’ve gone for a few extra pages establishing character because then I may have felt more invested when stuff started happening to them.

What I liked most about the novella is how most of the cool things about this series were revealed gradually, providing a huge payoff at the end that instantly hooked me into wanting to read on. It seems like many books start out telling you exactly what the characters are struggling with and give you a road map on how they’re going to fix it. This novella is a beautifully written showcase on how to show readers rather than tell them the point of your story. I continue to hold this author in very high regard.

Recommendations: this could actually be a great introduction to Ryan’s works if you haven’t tried him yet. If you love stories with expansive world-building as much as I do, then this one is a must-read! I feel like he’s only just scratched the surface on what this new world has to offer, and what I’ve seen so far is epic!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Tackling the TBR [84]: October 2022

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.

Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

October 2022 TBR Tackler Shelf:

::sits down to compose this post::
Shit. Did I really miss posting a TBR for September?? That can’t be right…

I did it again!! And this time I didn’t even notice until this very moment. Obviously my current post organizing system is working splendidly… not.

Well, while August was a month dedicated towards tomes, September has been a delightful expedition into series novellas along with a whole bunch of other fun reading.

Around the beginning of the month I borrowed a reading system from Matt’s Fantasy Book Reviews (he’s a content creator on YT and GR) which entailed scheduling out reading based on the speed at which I usually consume content. I took a whole day and recreated my version of his spreadsheet and started tracking my daily reading pace. And it is AMAZING.

I’ve tried to do all of this before, but only with pen and paper, which doesn’t leave any room for rearranging or adapting and simple data tracking, so it has always been a major flop. But with the spreadsheet I’ve been able to completely customize my schedule to something dialed and wonderful while still being able to plop in mood reads here and there. I’m embracing my need to plan and leaning fully into this very structured new system. I ran it all last month and had SO MUCH FUN with books. It has effectively taken away my anxious need to read all the things right now, and allowed me to fully immerse into just the book in my hand. I love it.

So I’m continuing on into October with this new schedule, which has been constructed with my continual goal to complete series in mind. I do have a few new series starters planned for Patreon Book Club (Jade City) and my Read/Burn/Hoard series on Youtube (Howl’s Moving Castle), but otherwise everything is focused on advancing and completing series. And I must say, I’m particularly excited about the lineup in front of me! And because I have an accurate prediction of how long each one will take, this isn’t an ambitious list, it’s a realistic one given my time and reading habits. :D Curating my reading to this extent may be the best thing I’ve ever done for myself with this hobby.

Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The Dragon’s Lair by Elizabeth Haydon

Title: Dragon’s Lair

Author: Elizabeth Haydon

Series: Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme #3

Genre: Middle Grade

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Barely one day after fulfilling his second mission for King Vandemere as Royal Reporter of the land of Serendair, young Charles Magnus Ven Polypheme—known as Ven—is off on another adventure. To keep them safe from the wrath of the Thief Queen, whose rage at their escape from the Gated City knows no bounds, the king sends Ven and his friends on an important mission. Their journey takes them across a wondrous land filled with marvels—and danger. For the mission the king entrusts to Ven is a delicate one: to discover the cause of a dispute between two warring kingdoms—and the answer leads Ven straight into the lair of a very angry dragon…. -Goodreads

The Review:

This is a fun middle grade adventure, but I can’t help but wonder if the author could’ve taken things a bit further.

For example, the majority of the first half of the book dealt with the characters gearing up for an adventure, whereas I think the page count might have been better spent experiencing things on the adventure itself. It seemed like a lot of buildup for a relatively short payoff. I did like the discoveries made along the way and the new places we got to visit, but finished the book wishing we’d spent more time exploring.

That seems to be the resounding theme of the series for me so far – much less adventure (and fewer dragons) than I was hoping for. The concept of the series promises visiting lands far and wide, and while I feel the first book delivered, these second two paled a bit by comparison. The next one promises and underwater adventure, so I’ll definitely finish out the series to see if as a whole the juice is worth the squeeze.

The characters in this book were quite rude to one another, in a manner that felt a little forced and inconsistent. It bugged me, and I can’t tell if it was more the rudeness itself or the inconsistency, but either way this is the first time I’ve found anything critical to say about the characterizations in this series.

Overall, my favorite thing about it is still the concept – the author is presenting herself as an archeologist in this land who found remnants of Ven Polypheme’s journals and sketches from his adventures and is attempting to piece them back together and fill in the gaps. It’s quite clever, and I support the initiative if not always the specific execution.

Recommendations: Symphony of Ages fans might delight in tales from the same world of Serendair (I know I am). Whereas middle grade readers might appreciate the adventurous main character, fun drawings, and interesting races and creatures found within the pages. At this point in the series I’m glad I’m reading it but it’s not standing out as a favorite.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Children of Time

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Series: Children of Time #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5/5 stars!!! <-Rare

The Overview: A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers? WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH? The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age—a world terraformed and prepared for human life. But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare. Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth? -Goodreads

The Review:

Add Children of Time to my very short list of all-time favorites!!

So many things about it worked for me. First of all, I’m especially drawn to Scifi stories with a strong biological component (Julie Czerneda has been a long-time favorite in that regard), and not only was this one bursting with alien flora and fauna awesomeness, but it also had a strong anthropological angle. I read so many Scifi where the most creative they get with world-building is what type of tech is used on this group of ships vs that one, so it’s wonderful to get the same level of expansive creation I usually have to defer to fantasy novels to experience.

This is my first Tchaikovsky, and it definitely won’t be my last. He made so many brilliant writing decisions in this book that I was left in awe. He had really creative solutions to some story logistics that would’ve left me stumped. Like how to tell the story over multiple generations while maintaining your reader’s connection to the characters. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving them the same name – something I never would’ve thought of. He handled the time jumps for the humans with similar grace, establishing a trust with me very early on in his ability to deliver a satisfying story.

What’s more, I found out mid-read that the author majored in both Zoology and Psychology – both of which spark my interest so much I can hardly stand it. And both backgrounds clearly enhanced the story. I love it when authors take a background of deep knowledge and apply that to their writing.

The book had the perfect balance of world-building, character connection, pacing, momentum, and then he topped it all off with a brilliant finish. I’m sure I’ll be talking about this one for years to come.

Recommendations: one of my all-time favorites! If you like Scifi with a good dose of anthropological components and creature creations, this is an excellent pick. It’s imaginative, exciting, and incredibly well-composed – I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: Semiosis by Sue Burke

Title: Semiosis

Author: Sue Burke

Series: Semiosis Duology #1

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: In this character driven novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke, human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance. Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that mammals are more than tools. Forced to land on a planet they aren’t prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape–trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect. -Goodreads

The Review:

I didn’t enjoy anything about this book.

Not the characters, not the story, not the trajectory, and most particularly not the execution. Nothing worked for me.

First of all, the basic title and premise give away a lot about what to expect in the story itself. The reader ventures in with a pretty good idea of what’s going on already, so right there the sense of discovery I crave in books was mitigated. What’s more, the reader may know, but the characters don’t, which was a classic case of dramatic irony – where the audience is aware of what’s going on, so they feel a couple of steps removed from the drama… and then the characters take forever to figure things out. Because of this I felt disconnected from the very beginning.

Then the disconnection compounded with each new POV. It’s one of those multi-generational novels where just about the time you get acclimated with a new character, there’s a time jump. I enjoyed the stories but didn’t feel particularly invested in any of them. I suppose from an anthropological standpoint it was interesting to see how society both devolved and adjusted over the course of time, but at the end of the day it was all a bit too simple to really keep my interest.

But I kept reading for the draw of the alien flora and fauna of the world.

Yet even that didn’t play out in a way I found satisfying at the end of the day. The best bits were in the first chapter or two where you really got to immerse in the wildness of this new place. But that interesting world building quickly got replaced by societal drama and an alien entity whom I thought more akin to an AI on a spaceship than an actual foreign creation…

The whole thing was disappointing. Nowhere near where I wanted it to be.

I decided I didn’t care enough about experiencing more in this series to continue with the second book, so I looked up spoilers to see how it ended. I’m such a completionist that those who know me will appreciate how extreme that was and take it as a testament on how much I didn’t care for the first book. It’s like all the ingredients were there with moments of good flavoring, but at the end of the day the author was making cake and I wanted pie (that’s a bad metaphor because I will always eagerly accept both cake and pie, but you get my drift).

Recommendations: this was not one of my favorites, but if you like the idea of a more biological & anthropological scifi (usually my favorite type), this may fit the bill. I was surprised to see how many of my fellow reviewers on GR absolutely loved this book, so I’m definitely in the minority here. Also look up trigger warnings before diving in.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes


Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Title: House in the Cerulean Sea

Author: T.J. Klune

Series: N/A

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret. Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages. When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days. But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn. An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours. -Goodreads

The Review:

I went in skeptical… then came out a believer.

Truth be told it took about 50% into the book before I was totally hooked. Up to that point I was still enjoying the story, but didn’t feel the “magic” of it that so many claim to have experienced. It took time, but I got there.

The book was very nostalgic – evoking the same feelings I felt venturing into Harry Potter for the first time. It resonated with the beginnings of those books where Harry was still with the Dursley’s – the discovery that we’ve been living mundane muggle lives amidst wonderful magics in this world… that most people don’t acknowledge or talk about because it’s just not proper. The sense of discovery I felt seeing the magic come alive alongside this totally ordinary “muggle” of a main character was delightful.

Part of the reason it took a while for me to get on board was the pacing. Klune really took his time grounding the reader with the main character, building a slow momentum of development that eventually paid off brilliantly. It was honestly more slowly paced than I usually have patience to handle, but in hindsight the book ended up having a satisfyingly balance and I wouldn’t change a thing.

I am the last person to pick up on social commentary in books, but still noticed here a through-message of hope. Hope for those forced on the fringes of society because they are different than the masses. In here those differences were celebrated and I felt like the book did a good job giving the ostracized a voice. It was a subtle message – integrated organically through the characters – but one that shone for me, and I think if you’re going through anything hard, this book will put you in a much better mood.

Recommendations: despite a slow start, this book evolved into one of the most delightful things I’ve ever read. If you want a fun fantasy that will leave you in a better state of mind, this will do the trick. :)

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes